Five Guys Named Moe, The Funny Papers, and eight more new stage shows to see | Performing Arts Feature | Chicago Reader

Five Guys Named Moe, The Funny Papers, and eight more new stage shows to see 

A Louis Jordan tribune and a satire of the 21st-century news biz are among this week's best bets.

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click to enlarge Court Theatre's Five Guys Named Moe

Court Theatre's Five Guys Named Moe

Michael Brosilow

[Recommended] Alias Grace Margaret Atwood's unimaginative, heavy-handed 1996 novel, which uses the lurid 1843 murder conviction of 16-year-old domestic servant Grace Marks to draw easy antipatriarchal moral lessons, gets an unimaginative, heavy-handed stage adaptation from playwright Jennifer Blackmer. But against tall odds director Karen Kessler and her stalwart cast imbue the staid, schematic proceedings with vibrant life in this Rivendell world premiere. Each actor in the story's central triangle—Ashley Neal as the convicted murderer, Jane Baxter Miller as her none-too-enlightened jailer, Steve Haggard as the none-too-enlightened doctor tending to both women's contradictory needs—brings an eye for nuanced detail (Miller's inscrutable smile is impossibly layered), turning near stock characters into compelling conundrums. The rest of the cast isn't far behind. Excepting the preposterous climax, these two hours are unexpectedly captivating. —Justin Hayford

click to enlarge NightBlue's Bullets Over Broadway - DREW PETERSON
  • NightBlue's Bullets Over Broadway
  • Drew Peterson

Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical I don't know whether I saw the Woody Allen film this stage musical is based on, but because it was released when its creator was still better known for his work than his questionable behavior, I probably just don't remember it. It's the story of a playwright who gets in bed with the mob, only to find out that he's a fraud while one of the capo's henchmen is a true creative genius. Allen relies on classic show tunes like Cole Porter's "Let's Misbehave" to do most of the heavy lifting, so it's up to the cast to sell this period pastiche. None lack enthusiasm, but only Monica Szaflik as fading diva Helen Sinclair comes close to bringing it home. Kevin Bellie directed and choreographed this NightBlue production. —Dmitry Samarov

Darrian Ford, Lorenzo Rush Jr., Eric Andrews Lewis, Stephen Allen, James Earl Jones II, and Kelvin Roston Jr. in Five Guys Named Moe - MICHAEL BROSILOW
  • Darrian Ford, Lorenzo Rush Jr., Eric Andrews Lewis, Stephen Allen, James Earl Jones II, and Kelvin Roston Jr. in Five Guys Named Moe
  • Michael Brosilow

[Recommended] Five Guys Named Moe This rousing, high-energy revue pays tribute to the 1940s songwriter and bandleader Louis Jordan, packing into a rocking two-hour show more than two dozen R&B tunes (among them "Ain't Nobody Here but Us Chickens," "Saturday Night Fish Fry," and the crossover hit "Caldonia") written or recorded by Jordan. Seven actors, accompanied by a terrific six-member band, sing, dance, strut, and shout their way through this seminal material, showing us at every turn what made Jordan great, and why so many rock 'n' roll pioneers, Chuck Berry among them, were inspired by him. Clarke Peters gets credit for the show's flimsy excuse for a book. Ron OJ Parson directs this Court Theatre production with the assistance of associate director Felicia P. Fields and music director Abdul Hamid Royal. —Jack Helbig

click to enlarge Sean and Carolyn Benjamin - COURTESY DRINKING & WRITING THEATER
  • Sean and Carolyn Benjamin
  • Courtesy Drinking & Writing Theater

Fuck You, Stephen Hawking! A married couple is thrown into a panic after hearing Stephen Hawking predict the world may end in the next hundred years. Sean and Carolyn Benjamin of Drinking & Writing Theater wrote and perform this hour-long philosophical riff fest, which leans hard on absurdist bits involving clowns, luchadors, mannequins, and robot-voiced recitations of Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton hits. There are the now obligatory references to our current political situation, and few answers to the overall feeling of hopeless despair except to have more kids and keep quoting "Islands in the Stream." —Dmitry Samarov

click to enlarge The Funny Papers, at Prop Thtr - JAMES TENIYA
  • The Funny Papers, at Prop Thtr
  • James Teniya

[Recommended] The Funny Papers Plucky, smart-talking San Francisco Union Constitution Gazette reporter Alice Inkwell's Pulitzer dreams go up in smoke when cut-throat tech magnate Heidi Techman buys the paper and installs a computer named STRONC to write all the copy. The resulting tabloid, touting meaningless headlines like "Have a Sandwich," may become a cash cow. This topical satire from playwrights Stephen Winchell and Benjamin Vigeant renders the imminent demise of useful journalism discomfitingly silly, taking several delicious swipes at self-absorbed theater critics along the way (when the Gazette's critic gets fired, he needs a full production number and several bows before he can be on his way). Led by the authors, director Erica Reid's gung-ho cast occasionally lack snap but never shy from making utter fools of themselves. —Justin Hayford

Wildclaw Theatre's Night in Alachua County - CLARK BENDER
  • Wildclaw Theatre's Night in Alachua County
  • Clark Bender

Night in Alachua County The horror aficionados at Wildclaw Theatre take their spooky stuff seriously. Given how reliant the genre can be on camera techniques to evoke dread, it's remarkable how effective director Christopher M. Walsh's adaptation of terror tropes is for the stage. In this word premiere by Jennifer Rumberger, an estranged daughter from a backwater Florida family tries to rescue her sister from their abusive and spell-dabbling mother (Allison Cain in a spectacularly villainous performance). It's hard to reconcile the incestuous rape of a mentally ill teen—the story's Big Bad—with a fun romp, but as a Killer Joe-style art-house thriller, Night is an undeniably pulse-raising experience. —Dan Jakes

AstonRep's 1984 - EMILY SCHWARTZ
  • AstonRep's 1984
  • Emily Schwartz

1984 Director Robert Tobin's program notes for his AstonRep Theatre Company production of 1984 says he was inspired to tackle the material by "the recent political climate." Unfortunately, in trying to bring George Orwell's great 1949 story to the stage for 2017 audiences, he's turned to a bland, mediocre 1963 adaptation that feels as if it was written for high school actors half a century ago. Scripted by Robert Owens, Wilton E. Hall Jr., and William A. Miles Jr., this stiff, stodgy play drives home Orwell's ever-timely message—about how governments can manipulate language and knowledge for power over their people—but fails to make the audience care about the characters whose actions trigger that theme. There's no sense of urgency in the furtive romance between Winston Smith, a worker in the "Ministry of Truth" of a Stalinesque totalitarian regime, and his comrade Julia, with whom he futilely conspires to oppose the all-powerful, unseen "Big Brother" (who may or may not exist). When the most interesting character in a performance of 1984 is the villain—the interrogator O'Brien, played by Amy Kasper as an efficient bureaucrat who finds genuine fulfillment in converting Smith to a party loyalist through brainwashing and torture—you know something's off. —Albert Williams

click to enlarge Huggable Riot's Panic! At the Honky Tonk - COURTESY THE ARTIST
  • Huggable Riot's Panic! At the Honky Tonk
  • Courtesy the Artist

[Recommended] Panic! at the Honky Tonk Huggable Riot’s musical revue is a string of confessional ditties about racist, sexist, and other -ist parasites. The cast calls to mind the tokenism of a college brochure, but this diversity is key to showing how similar are the issues faced by blacks, queers, Hispanics, etc, alike. Destiny Strothers sings beautifully about the offensiveness of catcalling; Elisabeth Del Toro describes how her half-white, half-Latino makeup means she’s never stopped at airport security; Lea Ciastko lambastes the tellers of Asian jokes only to concede that she’d “rather you be racist than unfunny.” This is also one of the only shows I’ve seen featuring a lone white male in support of his female castmates and not vice versa. —Steve Heisler

click to enlarge Picture It! A Golden Girls Musical, at MCL - MICHAEL SHEPHERD JORDAN
  • Picture It! A Golden Girls Musical, at MCL
  • Michael Shepherd Jordan

[Recommended] Picture It! A Golden Girls Musical "Put on your Depends and hoist up your girdles" for the world premiere of this musical inspired by your grandmother's favorite television show. Based on the series' 1985 pilot, this romp penned by Jeff Bouthiette and Jay Steigmann follows Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, and Sophia on a journey of sex, drugs and cheesecake. Under Molly Todd Madison's direction, the gender-reversed cast create an infectious atmosphere that amplifies the original's camp and biting humor. Beau Nolan's droll performance as Dorothy centers the show, which tracks the recent divorcee's quest for either a steady job or a husband. When Rose (played by a doe-eyed Michael Silver) is revealed to be a member of La Cosa Nostra, antics ensue as things take a turn toward another long-running TV show, Law & Order. —Marissa Oberlander

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